Lawrence O’Hara (1770-1823)

Lawrence O’Hara is the starting point for the O’Haras of interest in India. We know a lot about his life in the British Army, one of his marriage(s) and children, but possibly the most challenging part of understanding him is the significant gaps in his life story.

He is likely to be Irish, though it is unclear who his parents were but he likely arrived in Calcutta sometime in the mid 1780’s, and was working for the East India Company. In 1794, he married and joined the British Army.

In the late 1790’s, the only people who could have joined the British army as an officer would have been ‘British’ (which includes Irish), additionally, he would have needed either a significant income or funds from elsewhere to buy a commission. At the time this would to be an Ensign (the lowest Officer rank), have amounted to £400 1, which equates to somewhere in the region of twice the annual income of a barrister 2. Such money would only have been available to limited parts of the British establishment and the landed gentry.

By a process of deduction, it seems unlikely that Lawrence would not have been from such a background. It will not be a surprise that such families are very well documented. The lineage trees of O’Haras like many Irish families have been extensively researched, yet there is no record of a Lawrence O’Hara that matches even closely.

My current state of thinking is that he was an illegitimate child of an O’Hara family. Further details including those who were not his father can be found on the Speculations pages.

He had 5 children one of whom died soon after childbirth.

The four remaining children were John (1808-1849), Elizabeth (1815-1884), Amelia (1818-1858) and George (1820-1898). Whilst it is clear that they remained in touch, by attending marriages and christenings, the four branches of the family soon diverged and by the beginning of the 19th century it is quite likely that none were aware of their common roots.

No mother is recorded other than for George who is recorded as being born to Gungah, presumably a Mauritian woman, who Lawrence had a relationship with whilst posted there from 1815-1819 with the 56th Regiment.

Mary Woodson who he married in 1794 was already over 40, so is highly unlikely to be the mother to the three other children, who all married into Anglo-India families so were also likely to be the children of Indian or Anglo-Indian mothers and the absence of a named mother (although not always present on records in this period) suggests that this may be the case.

His military career is peppered with periods of absence due to ill health, this is by no means uncommon as the living conditions even for those of his rank in the British Army were far from conducive to longevity. In 1819 has was put on long term leave by Major General Darling, (the military commander of Mauritius) and with 25 years service, sold his commission in 1821 at which time he was living in Limerick, Ireland.

He died (according to entries in the Army List) in 1825 though it is not clear whether this was in Ireland or India.

I have spent many days of the last 20 years seeking out information, the birth, marriage and death information in India are a remarkable source of information but the gaps in the records seem at times to be more motivated by deliberate secrecy and a sense of commitment to his family than by loss of records.

His determination to not leave India, jumping between Regiments that stay in the country, being present at the birth of his children as indicated by the Muster Rolls point to someone escaping from a culture and embracing a new life.

The hunt to fill out the picture of this elusive character will continue!

  1. ↩︎
  2. ↩︎